From “Guest Speaker” (woman from Zarephath, widow, mother, amateur baker, time-traveling ghost)
You can probably guess: I’m not from around here. Don’t get me wrong. It’s good to be here, I like how you let a stranger walk into your church and just start talking to you. Not everybody would do that!
A few minutes ago, you heard Kingdom of Heaven parables from the Gospel of Matthew, what you need to understand is that I’m not from Jesus’ day. I was not in the crowd when he was teaching; I was not in the house he went to afterwards. I do need to tell you; there’s a real chance I was in his head.
Jesus knows me. He heard my story when he was growing up and he remembered me. In the Gospel we say Luke wrote, Jesus talked about me in the first sermon he ever preached in his hometown. Almost got him thrown off a cliff!
The place I come from is called Zarephath, it’s by Sidon along the coast, way north of the land of the Jewish people; it’s Baal-worshiping country. The time I come from is about five hundred years before Jesus was born.
He grew up hearing my story, so I got in his head, now I haunt him. And if you think that sounds creepy, it’s not. Haunting is what ghosts do. In case you’re thinking, “Aw no. I don’t believe in ghosts.” Let me assure you, that’s the wrong thing to worry about. The question is not, Do you believe in ghosts? The much better question is do the ghosts believe in you…
Right before that scripture you heard, you know what the disciples ask Jesus? Why do you speak in parables? They are so confusing! He tells them, Yeah. That’s the point. Some people get it; some don’t. Jesus says, “For to those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But for those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away” (Matthew 13:12). Jesus said that! A whole lot a people would say, I know that’s right. The rich get richer, the poor get nothing, then even the nothing gets taken.
So these parables make us worry. Am I one of the weeds or one of the wheat? Jesus is talking about a day of judgement when some are saved and some are cast out, so what about me? Am I going to get into the Kingdom of Heaven? As though there are a limited number of spaces. As though there’s only so much grace in the power of God, and I am standing in need, no kidding.
Will I get in? Will there be enough? People walk around the world worrying these questions. You might be carrying this worry —Will I get in? Will there be enough?
Well, I’ve come here to tell you. This might be the wrong thing to worry about.
Now I’m not from Jesus’s town; I’m not from Jesus’s time, but I have seen the promise of God come into my house uninvited, so I know something about this Kingdom of Heaven. It’s not a question of whether we will get into it. There’s a much greater threat that the Kingdom of Heaven will get into us. The grace of God tears down barriers; the generosity of God is out of control.
It means something that Jesus interrupts his own speech on the wheat and the weeds to tell another story about a weed. He says, the Kingdom of Heaven is like if someone planted mustard. Now mustard is an invasive species; you tell me, who’s out there planting it? Then get this! The weed grows into the tallest tree which gives a home to all the squirrels and the birds. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free…”
Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like this: a woman went and hid yeast inside a massive amount of flour (like fifty pounds) you know that’s gonna trigger an epic rising of bread! A minute ago we thought there wouldn’t be enough. Jesus talks about this woman making this bread. You guys I’m telling you, I’m in his head.
It all started in the middle of the worst drought we ever lived through. All the earth was blazing beige; the air was wrong. When you were trying to fall asleep, you could smell the drought in the back of your head.
What became clear to me was that my son and I could not keep on clinging to dust. We could not keep going. Years earlier, my husband died. Now the neighbors who had been helping me could not put food on their own tables.
You understand why we couldn’t keep this going.
A minute ago I mentioned the people who are worrying about whether there will be enough; scarcity worry is in our human DNA. So please understand. In the middle of this drought, we were not worried that there might not be enough. There actually was not enough. Don’t mistake the fear of scarcity with real-live scarcity. To those who have, more will be given, but to those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
The next morning, I was gathering sticks for the fire when I could tell this guy was watching me. I mean who does that! Then you know what he says to me, he says, “Give me some water!” Okay; take it easy.
Then it’s: “Hey, make me some bread.” Really? Yeah, do I look like a pastry chef? You look at me and think I’m out here in the middle of death operating a bakery? Who even are you?! So I tell him, “Look. As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing, only a handful of meal and little oil in a jar, I’m going home to make bread for my son, so we will have something to eat before we die.”
I turned and walked away from him, and he followed me! He came right into my house and sat down at my table. “Do not be afraid,” Elijah had the nerve to say to me. “Go on, make us some cake. Then you’ll see. The meal will last; the oil will last. Hide the yeast in the dough; there will be more than enough.
Elijah found us in Baal-worshiping country. He came into our house and brought us back to life. And people keep telling my story to prove their platitude, “God will provide.”
The next thing that happened was my son died.
Weeks earlier, we were going to die. Along comes Elijah! He comes into my house, he sits at my table, he saved us by the word of God. When my son got sick, I knew what this was… I said to Elijah, “What have you against me, O man of God? You have come into my house to bring my sin to remembrance!”
He was not expecting to hear that. Elijah was sweating and shaking. Whatever miracle he had been conspiring with the LORD, the plan had fallen apart.
Elijah picked up my son and carried him upstairs to his room and shut the door. If you think that sounds creepy, me too. I heard him through the door. Elijah was praying, but it was not like any prayer I have ever heard to any god.
“O God, how could you! Come on. What the — ! How could you do this! O LORD my God, you’ve got to save him! Do not ignore me. Get yourself here now and save him!”
That was not a prayer you learn from the rabbis. One part cursing; one part pleading; one part sobbing. Listening to Elijah’s unprofessional desperation, I started to believe him.
I remembered when he ordered a cake from me. “I’m hungry, you have to help me!” It worked. I made him the bread; we had more than enough. Now he says to the LORD your God, “You’ve got to save this boy!” And you know what; God did.
I was outside the door when it got weirdly quiet. Then Elijah opened the door, says to me, “See your son is alive.” His spirit had returned, and oh that kid is hilarious. First thing, he asked me for cake.
All of you are in this church because you are following Jesus. I lived hundreds of years before Jesus, but he grew up hearing the story of the oil that never ran out. He heard about Elijah bringing my son back to life. I’m sure he heard of Elijah’s embarrassingly desperate prayer.
Jesus is telling the people about the Kingdom of Heaven. It’s easy to hear this and get hung up on whether or not we will get in, but here’s what I know. God’s grace crosses the boundary between insiders and outsiders; it can be kind of pushy. It shows up uninvited and sits at your table, and the grace of God can bring you back to life. Even when you’re sure you’re going to die. Even when you do. Even when you have nothing, grace takes away the nothing you have, so you no longer have nothing. You have grace.
Grace is like mustard that takes over a field then becomes the tallest tree giving a home to the birds and the squirrels. Grace is what happens when a woman hid yeast inside the dough, then there was so much bread! Grace is in the bread. But here’s the thing.
There are people who are worried about not having enough. There are also people who actually do not have enough. Sometimes these are the same people but not always. When you meet people who do not have enough, please do not tell them my story, then say “Well, God will provide” and walk away. Please just don’t.
When somebody desperate is standing in front of you, you could give them something to eat. You could be the ones who help them, and when you can’t, you could pray like Elijah. If you let God hear your desperation, then the word of God will come out your mouth. You are the ones who can do this. I promise you, the ghosts believe in you. God believes in you. You’ve got this.